Friday, July 19, 2013

London's Summer Morning

As a writer of historical fiction, I have often wished for time travel. Oh, to be able to go back--to see what it was really like--to feel and see and smell my favourite era, even just for a moment.

But it cannot be, and so I research and recreate, to the best of my abilities. Once in a while, I uncover something that strongly evokes the period about which I am writing. 
London's Summer Morning is one such piece. London at the end of the 18th century is so well defined, so thoughtfully illustrated, it seems possible for me to walk those streets.

London's Summer Morning

Who has not wak'd to list the busy sounds
Of SUMMER'S MORNING, in the sultry smoke
Of noisy LONDON? On the pavement hot
The sooty chimney-boy, with dingy face
And tatter'd cov'ring, shrilly bawls his trade,
Rousing the sleepy housemaid. At the door
The milk-pail rattles, and the tinkling bell
Proclaims the dustman's office, while the street
Is lost in clouds impervious. Now begins
The din of hackney coaches, waggons, carts;
While tinmans' shops, and noisy trunk-makers,
Knife-grinders, coopers, squeaking cork-cutters,
Fruit-barrows, and the hunger-giving cries
Of vegetable venders, fill the air.
Now ev'ry shop displays its varied trade,
And the fresh-sprinkled pavement cools the feet
Of early walkers. At the private door
The ruddy housemaid twirls the busy mop,
Annoying the smart 'prentice, or neat girl,
Tripping with band-box, lightly. Now the sun
Darts burning splendour on the glitt'ring pane,
Save where the canvas awning throws a shade
On the gay merchandize. Now, spruce and trim,
In shops (where BEAUTY smiles with INDUSTRY,)
Sits the smart damsel, while the passenger
Peeps through the window, watching ev'ry charm.
Now pastry dainties catch the eye minute
Of humming insects, while the limy snare
Waits to enthral them. Now the lamp-lighter
Mounts the tall ladder, nimbly vent'rous,
To trim the half-fill'd lamp; while at his feet
The pot-boy yells discordant! All along
The sultry pavement, the old-clothesman cries
In tone monotonous, and side-long views
The area for his traffic. Now the bag
Is slily open'd, and the half-worn suit
(Sometimes the pilfer'd treasure of the base
Domestic spoiler), for one half its worth,
Sinks in the green abyss. The porter now
Bears his huge load along the burning way;
And the POOR POET wakes from busy dreams,
To paint the Summer Morning.
The poem was written by Mary Robinson. The exact date is not known, but she died in 1800.

This is the same Mary Robinson who was a famed actress and mistress of the Prince of Wales (later Prince Regent). She was renowned as "Perdita" from The Winter's Tale and, via caricature, he became her "Florizel".

Mary Robinson was a writer before she became an actress, and continued to write after her acting career ended, and illness disabled her. She wrote novels, plays and feminist works, and eventually came to be called "the English Sappho".

Her life and loves, her support of the rights of women, and of the French Revolution, have been well documented in biographies and treatises. But it is this one poem that interests me most. For in this one poem, we can walk at her side down the streets of London on a hot summer's morning--more than two hundred years ago.

'Til next time,


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